Editor's note: Brenda McGuire first told this story on stage at the Des Moines Storytellers Project's "Voyages: Life-changing experiences through travel." The Des Moines Storytellers Project is a series of storytelling events in which community members work with Register journalists to tell true, first-person stories live on stage. An edited version appears below.
As I leaned over the balcony of the SS Universe, somewhere over the sparkling blue South Pacific, I found myself daydreaming of the adventure and excitement that lay ahead of me. My destination: the world!
I was embarking on a 102-day voyage around the globe taking me to 12 countries on four continents. My childhood dream of traveling the world was finally coming true.
Growing up in rural Iowa, surrounded by a sea of cornfields, I was curious about what was on the other side of the world — its people, its places and its cultures.
But people would say I was crazy when told them I wanted to see the world. Except for my parents, who were always my biggest cheerleaders and supporters. Even though my dad has passed, I can still hear him saying those four magical words: "Just do it Brenda!" even though he had never left the country or even had a passport.
Little did I know that my travel dream would also lead me to the love of my life. But first, I would have to go on three around-the-world voyages, travel to 85 countries and move to six countries to find the man I would marry — while all along he was working at Principal, in the same building and same company as my mom.
My crazy journey started in 1992 when I was a senior at Iowa State University. I saw a poster that would change my life forever. It said, “Semester at Sea – A Floating University.” Whoa: This was definitely for me!
For the next semester I would use the world as my classroom as our ship sailed around the globe. While we were at sea, we would attend classes but would participate in field trips in each country we stopped in.
Now, keep in mind, my idea of a cultural field trip up to this point was going to Chi Chi’s Mexican Restaurant for Spanish class, so you can imagine my surprise when these were archeological tours in Cairo and walks on the Great Wall of China.
What I loved the most was connecting with so many kind-hearted people around the world and learning about their way of life, their cultures — what they ate, how they viewed the world and how they communicated, which was so different from my own.
Even before I even stepped off the boat, I was making plans to live and work around the world.
I knew my life would never be the same.
My travels led to an introduction
Over the next several years, I would end up moving to England, Australia and Ireland, where I would even work in a castle. Next, I spent two years in Osaka, Japan, where I would see another life changing poster for the ‘“Peace Boat" — a Japanese organization promoting peace around the world.
Soon I was setting sail again around the world twice more while teaching Japanese students on Peace Boat. But my heart kept calling me back to Sydney, Australia. I couldn’t explain it. I just had to go.
I followed that inner voice even though I didn’t fully understand at the time why I needed to. I signed up for a graduate program to study international communication, moving there a month before the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
During the Olympics, one of my Japanese friends from Peace Boat arrived and we went out one night. She introduced me to a guy from Malaysia who happened to work for the company, Principal, and through his introductions I met Terry, who worked back in Des Moines and was living in Sydney on a two-year work assignment.
On closing ceremony night of the Olympics, Terry had a party at his place to see the spectacular fireworks over the Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House. I knocked on his door not knowing I was about to meet my future husband.
Our first meeting was far from perfect. I’d felt a bit sick and the only thing I said to him all night while leaning over the balcony watching the fireworks over the harbor was “Wow, these remind me of the fireworks at Sec Taylor Stadium.”
He laughed. His first impression of me was how quiet I was. Right! If anyone knows me, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Still not feeling well, I asked for a sweatshirt and promptly fell asleep amidst a raging party of Aussies. How I slept through it, I have NO idea. Hours later, an Aussie asked Terry, “Hey mate, did that girl go home?" and Terry said, "Oh wow, I completely forgot about her."
Twelve hours later I awoke. We went for breakfast. We discovered we had many things in common — our rural roots, our shared values and our faith in God. We even knew some of the same people back home in Iowa. What a small world.
But, there is one thing we didn’t have in common which really concerned me — he was a Hawkeye and I was a Cyclone, so you can imagine how disappointed I was.
We spent two years together dating in one of the most romantic cities on earth. We explored Australia every chance we got, whether snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef or taking the train across the red outback.
In 2002, our two years came to an end. My studies were over and his work assignment was complete.
I worried going to Iowa meant traveling was over
But I was in no hurry to race back to Iowa. In fact, it was the last place on earth I wanted to go. I’d had spent years trying to escape Iowa.
So, I had this dilemma — should I go back to Iowa or continue my jet-setter lifestyle? But I thought, why don’t I bring him on a jet-set adventure on our way back to Iowa. Plus, I had to test this Iowa guy out. So, I made him put on a backpack and we did a whirlwind trip of five continents in five weeks. It was like our version of "The Amazing Race.”
During this crazy adventure, we island hopped in Thailand, trekked the Himalayas in Nepal, did a safari in South Africa, rode a gondola in Venice, hiked in the Swiss Alps, and met up with friends in London, Paris and Stockholm.
Finally, we arrived back in Des Moines. He passed the jet-setter test. In fact, I learned he is a much better traveler than me — shh, that is our little secret — and definitely more patient. When you travel with someone like that you certainly get to know them. I knew he was a keeper and prayed he thought the same.
But I still wasn’t ready to settle back in Iowa. So while he went back to work in Des Moines, I moved to New York to work for the competitor — Prudential. I had gotten the “dream job’” on Park Avenue, but it definitely wasn’t dreamy.
I was miserable living in New York and I’ll never forget when I found myself on my knees in Grand Central Station crying to go home. I missed Terry and I missed my family. Plus, I came to the realization I was now ready to come back to Iowa.
After I moved back to Iowa, I realized I didn’t have to give up my traveling. I could have the best of both worlds — working across the globe and living in Iowa.
I started two international companies, Worldwide Connect, to train global business professionals, and Global Gals, to teach women how to travel. I worked with clients in over 30 countries and spoke on cruise ships around the world. In my own community, I volunteered my cross-cultural expertise.
Terry and I continue to travel the world together
Four years later we found ourselves at yet another Olympics, this time in Athens, Greece. The day before the opening ceremony we visited the magical island of Santorini.
Picture this: A white, gorgeous cliffside village overlooking the Aegean Sea at sunset. Terry turns to me and quietly gets down on one knee. The moment took my breath away — I was completely speechless. But, of course, I said yes.
We celebrated our engagement at the Olympics the next day. A year later, we were married on a beach in Maui. Our friends from across the world helped us celebrate. We felt the love.
Terry and I have just celebrated 16 years of marriage and we are still traveling. We had planned to go to the Tokyo Olympics, but couldn’t due to COVID-19. Instead, we had fun exploring places closer to home.
When I set out to see the world as that young girl, I never dreamt I would go around the globe and back to meet a guy from Iowa. My life certainly had a funny way of coming full circle.
But honestly, it wasn’t always easy. My crazy journey reminds me of the Rascal Flatts song, “Bless the Broken Road.” I never thought I’d have to travel so many roads and cross so many oceans to meet my husband. But I’m so glad they brought me to him.
Having seen the wonders of our world, I’ve realized my own world — my community — is pretty wonderful too.
Terry's and my adventure continues and I can’t wait to see what lies ahead for us.
ABOUT THE STORYTELLER: Brenda McGuire is a world traveler, #1 best-selling author, and international speaker. She loves sharing her travel tips along with tales and misadventures gained from travels to 85 countries on six continents. Through her two international companies — WorldWide Connect and Global Gals — she helps others to successfully live, work and travel the world.
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This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Iowa storyteller's global journey led her to the love of her life